Since its inception in 2015, the Longines Rider Challenge, a $30,000 cash prize that is awarded to the rider who accumulates the most points in the Open Jumper classes at the Hampton Classic Horse Show, has only ever been won by an Irish rider.
In the first year, it went to Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam. The four years since, it’s been won by his countryman Richie Moloney.
This year looks to be no exception. Sweetnam is well in the lead for the $30,000 bonus after his win in Friday’s $75,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix-Qualifier CSI4*, aboard Indra van de Oude Heihoef.
Of the 50 starters to contest the initial 1.60m track, set by Canada’s Michel Vaillancourt, nine jumped clear to advance to the jump-off—two of which were ridden by Sweetnam.
The Wellington-based rider set the early lead on the 10-year-old chestnut gelding Main Road, stopping the clock in a time of 39.42 seconds. He returned several rounds later to shave nearly two seconds off that time with Indra, crossing the timers in 37.72 seconds for the win. Sweetnam and the 10-year-old grey mare also finished second in Wednesday’s $10,000 Palm Beach Masters 1.45m class.
“I was lucky to have both go clear,” he said. “The plan is for Main Road to jump Sunday, so I was never going to go all out with him today. I was lucky enough to go quick enough to still get a good piece of it with him and finish fourth.
“Having been around once, it gave me the real advantage of knowing the route, how it felt, and where I could leave a stride out. I had to work for it, but she does cover the ground.”
Sweetnam’s victory earns him a spot in Sunday’s feature grand prix, the $300,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix, a new Longines watch and approximately $10,000 for the Group for the East End, through the Hampton Classic’s Jump for Charity Program. Established in Bridgehampton in 1972 to serve as a community advocate for conservation, the Group employs a full-time staff of professional planners, natural resource specialists, and environmental educators that bring over 100 years of collective land use, education, and public advocacy experience to the local community.
It also places him well into the lead for the 2018 Longines Riders Challenge. With 305 points accumulated so far, he’s nearly 100 points ahead of current runner up Santiago Lambre (MEX) with 220 points. Moloney sits in third with 214 points.
Time will tell if their points lead holds until Sunday. But one thing is certain, luck of the Irish is on his side.